White House press secretary Jen Psaki was confronted on Friday over whether the Biden administration’s handling of a communication staffer’s alleged threat to a reporter broke President Joe Biden’s promise to immediately fire disrespectful staffers.
What is the background?
White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo was suspended without pay for one week after he reportedly threatened to “destroy” a reporter who was investigating his relationship with another member of the media. Ducklo also reportedly made “derogatory and misogynistic comments” to the female reporter.
Ducklo’s brief suspension, which amounts to a slap on the wrist, came despite Biden vowing to immediately fire disrespectful staffers.
“I’m not joking when I say this: If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts,” Biden told his staff on Inauguration Day.
What happened on Friday?
During the White House daily press briefing, Psaki was confronted by a reporter who asked whether the minimal action taken against Ducklo directly contradicts what Biden pledged on Jan. 20.
Psaki, however, dodged the question.
The reporter asked, “Now, it’s not a colleague being questioned here, but isn’t this, sort of, well short of what he pledged on Inauguration Day?”
“It doesn’t meet our standard, it doesn’t meet the president’s standard,” Psaki began, speaking of Ducklo’s conduct.
“It was important that we took a step to make that clear and that included not just an apology directly from him and apologies directly from us at the highest levels there, but also a step to suspend him for one week without pay,” Psaki continued. “That, in our view, was an important step to send the message that we don’t find it acceptable.”
In fact, Psaki admitted that she did not discuss the incident with Biden. She previously said that White House chief of staff Ron Klain approved of the reprimand against Ducklo.
Earlier in the press briefing, Psaki was asked why she did not ask for Ducklo’s resignation or fire him outright.
In response, Psaki claimed the punishment doled out against Ducklo is “serious.”
He had a heated conversation about a story related to his personal life. I’m not saying that’s acceptable, but I just want to be clear that it was not about an issue related to the White House or a White House policy or anything along those lines.
He’s the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President, nor is it the standard of behavior set by me, and I’m his direct supervisor. In addition to his initial apology, he sent the reporter a personal note, expressing his profound regret. The ask — he has been placed, as you noted, on a one-week suspension without pay. That is a significant step. I’m not aware of a history of that step being taken; you all can check me on that.
And in addition, when he returns, he will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico. I don’t — we don’t want — no one wants anyone to feel uncomfortable, to be put in an uncomfortable position, and that’s not behavior that we will tolerate. So, those were the steps that were taken, and we felt it was a serious punishment.